Tag Archives: Learning

Do No Harm

In a recently published article in The Walrus titled “Yoga’s Culture of Sexual Abuse” a lens is turned toward the yoga community and a renowned teacher who abused his position of power in a similar manner to many of the #metoo stories which have recently come to light in other industries and organizations around the globe. The major difference in this story is that the abuse took place under the guises of spirituality and spiritual practice. A painful article to read, this expose on Krishna Pattabhi Jois’ inappropriate behaviors as a yoga teacher not only brings to the table an uncomfortable conversation but also the need to recognize blind trust in the yoga community, and to understand its detriment to a person’s health.

While the #metoo movement has made it more common to out sexual misconduct and inappropriate behaviors of men in power, accusations and exposes of the sexual misconduct and deviancy of male leaders of yoga schools are nothing new. Back in 2012 John Friend the founder of the Anusara Yoga tradition, the tradition that I study and teach, was himself accused of deviant sexual misconduct and consequently stepped down from the organization completely. Jois and Friend are not alone, they in fact are in thick company, joining the many male leaders of varying yoga schools who have been accused of sexual wrongdoing. These men are undoubtedly excellent yoga teachers; this is why they have generated enormous followings and grand schools of tradition. Yet these men were always human no matter how beautiful the practice they were teaching was; these were always men with human faults.

The article mentioned above relays the stories of nine women’s accounts of being sexually perpetrated by their venerated yoga teacher, all while being assisted in asana. Reading the article made me very upset. As a yoga student I have only been the recipient of respectful touch. As a yoga teacher I am diligent about touching respectfully and with consent. As a studio owner I expect my teachers to follow the same protocols. To be the victim of sexual assault is detrimental to one’s health on every level, to be the victim of sexual assault while pursuing a spiritual connection is damaging beyond words.

As students of yoga we generously follow our teachers with great swaths of trust. Most yogic traditions espouse absolute and unquestioned devotion to the Guru and in general, a great teacher can charm you into trusting and following blindly with charisma alone. No matter how much the teacher reminds you to be in your own body it is easy to get swept away in the current of the room, the bigger the body of water (i.e. the more students there are) the faster and stronger the pull. Such a pull has a hypnotizing effect, as does the asana, and the subsequent re-wiring of the brain and nervous system make the practitioner ever more vulnerable.

As I understand it Jois’ assaults were not protested in the moment. They were not protested because they took place in an environment that championed spirituality and surrender. The rewiring of the nervous system in the context of spiritual practice must have led to confused minds which muffled the inner knowing that something was explicitly wrong.

Vulnerability is inherent in a yoga practice. For the practice to do its work the practitioner needs to become vulnerable on every level. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to find a teacher who is trustworthy and will respect such vulnerability.

For students of yoga who have become intoxicated on yoga’s goodness it is easy to believe that the leader of an international and long standing yoga school is honorable. It is just as easy to walk into a relationship with the leader of such a school with unwavering trust. Because the roots of yoga sit deeply in principle and ethic, being sexually abused by an internationally renowned teacher is never a consideration. Such a thought would not cross a passionate student’s mind amid the gift of being able to study with their “teacher” or “Guru”. Violating a student in such vulnerable space is disgraceful and must be exposed and eschewed.

After reading the article I have questioned the value of hands on assists. I know that in my own experience they have been very beneficial. I also know that I do not need those assists to have a spiritual connection and therefore must question their weight. In an environment where vulnerability is inherent anything I as a teacher can do to nurture trust is valuable.

When new students arrive at Shree I like to remind them that the instructions are an invitation and not a command. Some schools of yoga approach such concepts differently but in the end, it is all the same. The practice of yoga is about getting to know your own inner voice of authority and teaching it to be wise and discerning and in alignment with something bigger than oneself. That authority which is bigger than oneself is also bigger than the Guru touting it. Questioning authority must be inherent in such a practice. Teachers of self-realizing practices who put the kibosh on self-authority must be left behind. Tolerance of forced deviant behavior from leaders of any organization on their subordinates must never be condoned, it makes everyone look bad and prevents full vulnerability and true personal and spiritual growth.

The practitioner always has the last say on what is right in the pose for them, what is good about the practice for them, what serves in their body, mind, and spirit, and what to leave behind. For many years now I personally have had to wrestle with the ugliness of this industry and the many misguided values of the greater yoga community. The fall of my own yoga teacher invited me to ask the hard questions many years ago and in the end, I do my best to remember to first look for the good, second remember what serves, and lastly choose something that enhances life. Sharing this article sheds light on some of the ugliness of this industry and at the same time the power that it is inherent in everyone to make choices. Doing nothing is a choice. Following blindly is a choice. Listening to your inner voice of authority and saying no to the outer voice of authority is also a choice. The purpose of the practice is to quite the fluctuations of the mind-stuff, not to spiritually bypass them. Be vulnerable, be trusting, and be your own Guru.

With Love and Respect, Always, in All Ways, For Giving,

Genevieve

 

 

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Guest Post By: Liz Fox

I’m 62, And So Are You

As I was checking a visitor into class the other morning, she was asking what style of yoga I taught.  It just came out of my mouth, “I’m 62, and so are you!”  She was likely in her 50s, but she totally got it.  As did I at that moment. I don’t really look my age, and I certainly don’t act my age, and I don’t really feel my age, but my body, especially in the morning, owns its age.

I never thought about it until I started teaching yoga. I would always do the class the teacher provided, inhaling and exhaling on cue, lifting this limb or that, reaching, bending, folding, etc.  It was all fine, but it was actually not fine. I was listening to the teacher, not to my own body.

Once I was in control, it all changed. I realized my body was not usually ready for what the teacher provided, and it was my responsibility to take this on. Let me explain: I remember the first morning I woke up in pain. I was about 28, and had been at an all-day horse show the day before, where I won the All Around. That was 14 classes, really pushing it. (I now wonder how my horse felt the next morning.) I woke up and felt stiffness, and it was really the first time in my life, and I said, “Wow, this is what they are taking about.”

Now, every morning is a form of that first experience. The first thing I do is lower my 14 pound dachshund from the bed. (I try to limit his jumping, which is hard on his long spine.) That experience, which I do every morning, I compare to every other day that I begin with the same movement. Even with super safe lifting technique, I feel it in my back. I joke to myself that I will now move from being a cripple and transform into a yoga teacher.

This is normal for most of us, right? Our bodies have been used, enjoyed, pushed, tested, and that is life.  But many of us, in our 2nd or 3rd acts, are in the best shape of our lives.  I could to a backbend in a doorframe when I was 14, but so what. Those amazing photos on Instagram of young girls doing backbendy and strength moves are impressive, and impossible for most of us. Inspiring, but like a trip to the moon. Yet, we are taking much better care of ourselves now, and appreciate each breath in a way we never could in our youth.

Hence, Morning Yoga.  Sonya told me a story once about a guy in her classes in Mysore. The poor guy was in his 40’s, and the Mysore practice was a strong, early morning Ashtangha practice, so he would get up 2 hours earlier, which was like 3 am, to do Feldenkreiss, to prepare for yoga practice. The point being, that Ashtangha was designed for bodies much younger, like teens and 20’s, the first act of life.

That story resonated with me. First, because I am not that responsible to really get up that early to take care of myself. But wow, yeah, that is what I need. Sure. (Nothing against Ashtangha, not at all. There is so much wisdom in that practice, but it is not for everyone!) But it also gave me total permission, as if I needed it, to look into my own body, and prepare what needs to be prepared, and I saw the value of this.

It is an open secret that yoga teachers teach what they are experiencing. If my shoulders are hurting, I will likely gravitate towards a shoulder opening practice. When my hips feel tight, I will go to that. And since my body is stiff in the morning, it is natural for me to teach to that.

My injuries have been spinal, so for me, a long slow, consistent, somewhat predictable spinal warm up works best. Others might have knee injuries, and need to attend to that. We all have stiff shoulders.

Morning yoga, the way I teach it, assumes we are all 62, or older, and our bodies do not spring out of bed ready for an strong practice. We might get there in half an hour, and might do the most lovely utthita hasta trikonasana of our lives, twisting our spines, lengthening our limbs, lifting our hearts. But first, we listen to our bodies, offer them some time to unwind, and recover the bloom of youth.

Yoga is a journey, often one without goals. Sure, we have goals, and sometimes the goal is to feel better in our bodies, in our souls, to more deeply connect to ourselves. Sometimes the goal is to face reality, putting our limitations into context, yet seeing what might be possible.  For 6 years, I started each class I took with the intention of “I will not get hurt.” Nothing wrong with that, but now I am learning, and hopefully teaching, more thoroughly, that precaution.

My favorite book title is Pema Chodron’s “Start Where You Are.”  Duh, but so profound.  Even if you do not know where you are going, or where you want to go, or where it is possible for you to go, find out where you are now, and start there. Take care, let fear go, and trust yourself.

Open to all the possibilities

The point of the To the Moon and Beyond yoga challenge is as you like it. There is no intended goal beyond an invitation to take a peek – a glimpse into what might benefit you to bring into your life, and what might be ready to drop away. We’re banking on the idea that in the stages along the way from dreamy conception of a commitment to practice thirteen times sandwiched between the new and full moon, to the dripping pomegranate seeds of culmination with the full moon and new year, there is magic in the mix that couldn’t have been imagined at the outset.

Personally, I’ve not seen the end of the yoga tunnel. There have been fruited apex moments on the mat, sure, and progress and happiness in relationships off the mat that I have been able to cast clear linking lines to the yoga. I can only truly say that thanks to my time exploring this yoga stuff I’ve : gotten better at moving in my skin; gotten better at dealing with conflict; gotten better at taking deep breaths when I’m stressed, when I’m resting, and when I might otherwise retreat into headspace and check out; gotten better at taking care of myself and others; I’ve gotten better at being me. And there is oh, so much more coming down my line and more fruit, for sure.

I’m curious to see what pops up with the commitment to be at the studio a whole bunch, to forgo other things in lieu of the grind of practice, to sit with what is stirred up to begin and what the gates will close in upon and finish, and to be with other people embarking on their similar and all the way original journeys at the turn of a new moon cycle and year. All in the light of the magic, reflective, and constant love of the moon, for who better to witness the outer work of all that asana on the surface, and to measure the profound alchemy that just might unfold in the dark cave of our hearts?

Ready.

Love, Suki Ola

Everything is medicine, and everything is poison.

The climate, literally, and in a broad view of humanity and politics, is feeling pretty v(olati)ile at the moment. And so, our opportunity to discern – to really truly get honest about what is helpful and life-affirming, and what is blighted behavior – is real. As autumn’s patina wends its way into the high desert sunshine and the gardens dry, I marvel at what the last year has brought. What a story I am tempted to tell about our lineage of human relationship with each other, and the planet! And I am aware that knowing what has gone down and how it got us to where we are, is invaluable information, but that the story, which lends itself to blame and shame, is venomous, and nary helpful.

In just the right proportion, at the right time, and for all the right reasons, we can take in poison, and heal. Shiva did it, we all have. I’ve also dosed inappropriately something I thought was “good medicine”, and made things way worse. Peppermint tea isn’t actually a panacea, and neither are antibiotics, this is the premise of the medicine-poison thing; nothing is for always.

People can also be medicine, and poison. Those we learn from, whether it feels delicious or bitter, are catalyzing change. We are all medicine people if we walk with awake eyes and hearts to how we affect each other, and we are pushing poison if we walk with closed-minded attachment to what is no longer true. Life is powerful! It is no small gift of being that we incarnated with human life. Wise living strikes the ultra-fine equinox balance between healing and harming inside of each breath.

And since we’re s’posed to be talking yoga, the asanas, pranayamas, and deep wisdom teachings of the yoga are also, medicine and poison, alike. Maybe one day a posture feels magic, and another, it causes pain. The pranayamas, inappropriately used, diminish life force, create stress, and can do serious harm. And scriptures written for the climate of a few thousand years ago may not be applicable verbatim to us, today in 2017, trying to figure out how to “be ahimsa”, or “cultivate peace” in the wake of bigoted buffoons playing as world leaders. Reading the news by default negates our opportunity to focus only on breath all the ding-durn day. We can’t do both, see? It feels dangerous to pretend to “stay cool” while watching devastating images of life destroyed, and a t-shirt that says “Namaste, Bitches” doesn’t feel loving to me, but who am I to say? Prescribed snippets of media-free moments, and critical doses of stress-relief during urgent times set the tone for healing in the now, and in the ancient ways. Small acts of self-and-together-care help us to rise from the ashes of judgement that keep us all down, and move forward in equity, respect, health, and love.

This is what healing looks like. I do believe that a guiding light and divine wisdom – God – is everywhere. And I commit to making and tending a thread of personal connection (context), between individual and the vastness, or else, I’m just prescribing unrealistic and ofttimes harmful concepts and practices. Anything we learn from is a guru. Taking the reins, then – even taking power back – is a process of making choices in every moment with intention (the thread), and willingness to transform (openness and humility amidst the vastly immeasurable spiritual stew of life-altering potential) through the experience. In the brewing process, maybe we learn to put poison into context, and make medicine with our words and actions that will actually begin to heal the wounds of the past? Apply love liberally.

Blessings for this equinox time, friends.

In deep respect,

Suki Ola

Yoga is not about being anything at all. Many of the Greats would say that if anything, yoga is about becoming one with everything, and so, about being no thing. There are hosts of ideas, thousands of years of scripture, and a billion and one styles of yoga in the modern world to fiddle with the big (and small), ideas of the practice, but my truth is that the yoga is about: being many things, learning many things, digesting many things, and then being free and capable to make informed decisions about what I might like to repeat. It’s about being supple, in body and mind, and keeping my heart open to the mystery. For that all to work out, it’s got to continue to change as I do. Over the years, different aspects of the yoga have enticed me, and for different reasons. In allowing transformation to happen, even seeking it through a variety of models of praxis, the yoga has become integral and linked to every encounter and breath. And seriously, I feel it is just beginning.

I have a teacher who likes to say that if you have found an idea or a practice that you enjoy and the concept of “rinse, lather, repeat”, is enticing, then you have found the impetus to practice. It is from this desire (tapas), and curiosity for process that we begin to understand what it really is that brought us to ask for practice at all. One can’t know what the end result is before it has come, but we have to strive for resolution and goals. Without direction, we are rather lost at sea. I like to look at the yoga – and especially something like the Root Down challenge – as an invitation just to set a course. It may be an arbitrary thing to attend 20 classes in 30 days, but that might just be the gift. Somewhere in all that breath and time with community, inspiration and deep wisdom will rise from the depths and the roots.

The Root Down Spring Yoga Challenge is on, as of today, and I am feeling all the feels about it. Already I’ve worried about how all that time traveling to and fro, and being on the mat at the studio is going to happen. But I know from experience that the yummy part of the challenge isn’t completing it, but witnessing the inevitable shifts that take place in the middle of it. Picasso said it nicely, “I begin with an idea, and then it becomes something else.” He spoke directly to the surprise embedded in any commitment’s fibers. Just start, and see what unfolds. Join me for 20 in 30 days this spring. We can help support each other in the ebbs and flows of all that asana, remind each other to stay hydrated, and to stay open to the wild growth that will come from our setting strong roots into practice.

Love and giant respect, Suki Ola

Into The Great Wide Open

I love the Tom Petty song “Into the Great Wide Open.” I love the idea of myself on adventure out in the world of the unknown eyes wide open. There is no contesting that like the protagonist of the song I too embody the rebel without a clue, a contrarian by nature and often times holding a stance on a subject I am truly ignorant about. In Sanskrit this is called avidya and is a state of being in delusion, illusion, and ignorance. More succinctly, it is not understanding the big picture.

Continue reading Into The Great Wide Open